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On one end of that scale, at the Sotheby’s auction on July 4 a pocket watch worn by Lord Nelson during the Battle of Trafalgar and probably given to him after his triumph at the Battle of the Nile sold for a premium-inclusive £322,000.

Meanwhile, a day later at Cambridge auction house Cheffins in the Connoisseur’s Sale on July 5, a part of the top sail of Nelson’s flagship at Trafalgar, HMS Victory, was bought for £3800 (or £4750 with premium).

Trafalgar timekeeper

Specialists at auction house Sotheby’s believe Nelson either acquired the pocket watch or he received it from an admirer following the Battle of the Nile in 1798, and that he carried it during Trafalgar.

Nelson was killed after a French sniper’s bullet pierced his shoulder and shattered his spine during the battle and this watch was removed while he was on HMS Victory.

The Emery pocket watch No. 1104 is now mounted in a gilt-brass carriage clock case and was made by Georgian watchmaker Josiah Emery (c.1725-97). It was offered with an estimate at £250,000-450,000.

Even without the Nelson provenance the watch would be valuable as Emery, a Geneva watchmaker who set up in London, is renowned for his fine timepieces.

It was not part of the sale of Nelson artefacts sold in July 1895 and acquired for the nation by the British government. The watch is now one of only a small handful of Nelson possessions still in private hands.

When Nelson died this watch was one of 19 objects returned to his mistress, Emma, Lady Hamilton, following his death. It was then inherited by the admiral’s brother, William, 1st Earl Nelson, and subsequently passed to his sole surviving child, Charlotte. She arranged for the watch to be mounted in its current form as a carriage clock.

The watch, which has previously been on loan to the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, had remained under the ownership of Charlotte’s descendants until it was bought by a private collector in the US. It was being offered at Sotheby’s following the collector’s death last year.

Tale of the sail

The topsail section sold at Cheffins came with an authentication letter from the National Maritime Museum (dated 1980), and attracted interest from around the world, eventually selling to an internet bidder on

It is decoratively penned Part of the Fore Top Sail of H.M.S. Victory after The Battle of Trafalgar Oct, 21st 1805 above England expects that every man will do his duty. In its frame it measures 13.5 x 8in (35 x 21cm).

Charles Ashton, director, Cheffins, said: “The part of HMS Victory’s topsail was unsurprisingly a popular lot. A difficult item to value due to the lack of precedents, but a hammer price of almost double our lower estimate was a pleasing result for this fragment of military history.”